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Nan Goldin Denounces Richard S. Sackler’s Patent of New Drug for Opioid Treatment

The recent news that American billionaire Richard S. Sackler—the former cochair and president of Purdue Pharma, the privately-owned pharmaceutical company that developed the powerful painkiller OxyContin and then misled doctors and patients about the risks of taking the drug—has been granted a patent for a new treatment for opioid addiction has sparked a public outcry.

While the treatment, a reformulated version of Buprenorphine may be effective, the possibility of the company that is largely responsible for creating the opioid epidemic in America profiting off of addicts is further fueling the national backlash against the company, which is currently embroiled in hundreds of lawsuits over the crisis. 

In response, photographer Nan Goldin and her group P.A.I.N. (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) released a statement on Monday, September 10, condemning the patent. Co-written with addiction activist and author Ryan Hampton and the collective Queer Appalachia, the statement reads: “They are profiting off the crisis that they subsidized with their most profitable pill, OxyContin. This is reprehensible and shows a lack of any moral conscience. Maybe they can patent a funeral parlor next.”

The statement also cites a report in the Financial Times that revealed that the Sackler Family owns the company Rhodes Pharma, a Rhode Island–based pharmaceutical that is one of the biggest manufacturers of generic opioids. The company, which is behind the patent, was formed only four months after Purdue Pharma pleaded guilty to the criminal charge of “misbranding” OxyContin and agreed to pay $634.5 million in fines in 2017.

In the past, the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma have claimed that OxyContin only accounts for 1.7 percent of overall opioid prescriptions in the US. However, according to the Financial Times, prescriptions of opioids from Rhodes and Purdue in 2016 totaled more than 14 million. The companies make up six percent of the opioid market. In response to the controversy ignited by the article, Rhodes Pharma told artnet that its reporting was “based on speculation.”

The statement concludes with the activists demaning that the drugmakers sell the treatment for pennies. “Medical philanthropy, not profits, must be the next step. . .OxyContin should not be a ‘gateway drug’ for Purdue’s other products. Recovery must belong to people, not corporations who cause and profit off our pain. Shame on the Sacklers and shame on the federal government.”

Rhodes Pharma has since told several media outlets that while it does hold a patent on the technology that will allow the company to manufacture the new drug it has not yet developed a product and does not intend to commercialize it for profit. This has caused critics to speculate on whether the patent and a recent $3.42 million grant it awarded to help advance the development of a low-cost, anti-opioid nasal spray is part of a plan to win leniency in settlement talks related to the many lawsuits that have been filed against the company.

Alongside members of P.A.I.N, Goldin has held several protests against the Sackler family’s involvement in the opioid epidemic since the beginning of the year. She has given speeches, chanted, performed “Die-Ins,” and demanded more funding for treatment at demonstrations at the Sackler wing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC, as well as at New York University and the Harvard Art Museums in Cambridge.